My mother had just moved from Eugene to Ellensburg, Washington, to accept the position of Professor of Elementary Music Education at Central Washington University. My dad was Professor of Cello at the University of Idaho, in Moscow. My next older sister, Evie, had just moved up to Seattle with her husband, who had finished his tour in Vietnam assigned to a Navy tanker. Donna was still teaching in Kirkland (a suburb of Seattle now known as the home of Costco’s house brands.) For the first time in years, we were all in the same area, but for me, there had been a huge shift.
Although I had just been awarded in-state tuition, although I had just rented a cool old house close to campus to share with two good friends, and although I was first call among the U of W student clarinetists, my inner voice was incessantly saying “I want to play first clarinet in an orchestra; I have to leave and go study with that guy.”
I broached the subject with Mom and got a resounding “NO.” Tuition at the University of Southern California, the private school where Lurie taught during the year, was $100 per credit (in 1973!) Mom made it clear: “I didn’t spend that on your sisters and I’m not spending that on you.” I was devastated. I talked to the rebel in the family, sister Evie, who could see how strongly I felt. She said, “Well, why don’t you go to a bank and borrow the money?” I was taken by surprise. But after thinking about it, I walked over to a bank on “The Ave” and inquired about a student loan.
Omitting the long-forgotten details, my loan was approved. In retrospect, they were trusting bankers, to give $3,000 to a 19-year-old who wanted to study the clarinet in another state, 1,000 miles away.
Then came the hard part—going to Mom and Professor McColl (my most important supporters) to announce my departure. Mom was furious when I told her that I was counting on the same amount of money she would have given me if I were in Seattle, and I was going to use it in Los Angeles. “Well don’t expect me to go to your senior recital!”
Professor McColl was not too pleased either. But he returned after a Soni rehearsal and said “I was mad about you leaving, but in rehearsal, the guys said you were right to go. If you want an orchestra career you have to leave Seattle.” So many times in my memory I have thanked those five musicians; leaving the U with their blessings made the transition much easier.
So, I finished up fall quarter, said good bye to my friends and teachers, had a long Christmas break, packed up, and headed down to Los Angeles to start USC in spring semester 1973. I applied to live in a dorm on campus and was placed in one called EVK (Elizabeth von Kleinfeld,) which had the HUGE advantage of practice rooms in the basement. My roommate was a graduate student in psychology, and the term started off well, although I was in culture shock, trying to figure out why the girls on campus wore cute little gingham dresses and sandals and carried purses; in Seattle it had been jeans, t-shirts, tennies, and backpacks.
Then, as I was settling in (starting a work/study job, finding seats in the band and Daniel Lewis’ fine orchestra, practicing, studying,) people in the music school began speaking in hushed tones, wondering if Mr. Lurie was going to live. ¿¿¿¿¿¿WHAT??????
When I finally got up the courage to ask what was happening, I learned that he had just survived quadruple by-pass surgery, which was quite a new procedure at that time. His return to teaching, eight weeks after this ordeal, was a great relief to me. I taken a huge, bullheaded leap of faith to head south, and I was one of many who were eternally grateful to the doctors who discovered his heart condition and fixed it. Mr. Lurie quoted his cardiologist in one of my lessons: “I don’t know why you haven’t had a heart attack yet, but you would have had just one.”
I returned to the Academy that summer, where we all celebrated the health of Mitchell Lurie, whom we admired so much. (See the Teaching tab for a picture taken of him in San Juan in 2001.)
Here I am with Bill McColl after my performance at the Vancouver ClarinetFest in 2007. He is truly one of the great intellects and one of the great gentlemen of our clarinet world, in addition to being a great clarinetist and musician!
Visit www.soniventorum.com to hear him and his Soni colleagues–one of the great woodwind quintets of all time!